Socrates attacks Euthyphro’s story in the hopes of undermining Euthyphro’s sense of what is right and wrong, yet the story itself is only the first part of his case against his father. He doesn’t even invoke the story to prove his father’s guilt but to justify his own action to prosecute his father. The myth prepares the way for his prosecution but is not the substance of it.
The elements of the story and the elements of the case are not dissimilar, though. That similarity leads me to wonder if we can develop Euthyphro’s case more fully. Assuming that the story provides Euthyphro with the opportunity to speak, it’s sensible of him to develop the comparison more fully in making his accusation. While Euthyphro would probably use other forms of argument, it makes sense for him to develop the mythic argumentation, too. Since it is one of the tools we have at our disposal for appreciating Euthyphro’s case, I’d like to project one vector for its elaboration.
Both the myth and the case revolve around cases of binding. Just as his father bound the murderer, so did Zeus bind his father. However, Zeus does not castrate his father until sometime later, for the same reasons as the binding whereas Euthyphro’s father engaged in neglect that manifested the punishment immediately and incrementally.
The bound murderer suffered and died without the delay necessary to pass proper judgment, something that the myth of Zeus suggests is proper.
Though this comparison is narrative, three aspects of justice can be seen clearly within it. Justice is a matter of restraint, reflection, and retribution. The restraint may be immediate, a direct response to actions that introduce disorder and cause harm (devouring of sons/murder of a slave) but occurs for the sake of a period of reflection. Reflection, in turn, provides judges with the occasion to consider the restrained individual’s actions and determine a form of retribution that restores the order the crime disturbed.
This justice is not concerned with determining guilt, but with determining a corrective that rights an already evident wrong. The father’s crime lies not just in the murder, but in the way his actions disorder the proper proceedings of justice.
By transforming restraint into retribution, the father does away with the reflection necessary to determine proper retribution, proper balancing, and so risks adding more disorder after the murderer’s first crime. A priest might determine, for example, that it is more proper for the servant to remain alive so that he may labor to correct the damage he had done.